By Liza Zaslow, Founder of Gotham Organizers
If you were chosen to lead a work project that was going to take months to complete and which involved coordinating the schedules of dozens of people from different companies, you wouldn't think of starting without a project plan. Your job search will be just as complex and perhaps even more challenging: you don’t have a boss looking over your shoulder to make sure you get it done. Since you want to succeed, it will pay off if you take the time to get organized before you get started.
Organize your materials
Yes, it’s the 21st century and everyone has a computer. However, this doesn’t seem to have cut down on the amount of stuff we have to organize. In fact, we now have to organize information in both electronic and hard copy formats. You can use the same basic principle to organize papers and computer files: the key is to group similar types of materials together so you can quickly find what you need. Choose category names that are fun and that inspire you. Instead of "references", create a "fan club". Why just have a folder called "resumes" when it could be labeled "my brilliant career"? When creating electronic documents, use descriptive names to make things easier to retrieve. "CoverLetter-Mega Corp" is more useful than "CoverLetter3".
From copies of your resume to company brochures to Post–It notes with the phone number of a great headhunter, the best way to keep track of paper is with a filing system. This can be as simple as a few manila folders in a box or as complex as the Library of Congress; whatever suits your needs.
If you get called for an interview at Mega Corporation tomorrow at 9AM, you don’t want to be up until midnight looking for the research report your friend Jim gave you two weeks ago. This is time that could be much better spent ironing your favorite shirt, polishing your shoes and getting a good night’s sleep. If you are using different resumes for different jobs, you must keep track of what you've sent to whom. You don't want spend most of the interview elaborating on the skills you used organizing the company picnic when you’re interviewing for the proofreader position.
If you leave a lot of voice mail messages, create a system to quickly identify the names of people who call you back. You could use a Rolodex, a software contacts program, or even an alphabetical list of people you’ve contacted. However, since even the best systems can break down, have a back up plan. If you get a call from Jane Doe and you have no idea who she is, politely thank her for calling, explain that you’re running to a meeting, and ask when a good time would be to reach her. This is much more professional than saying, "Who?"
Organize your time
Whether or not you are currently employed, your job search will require you to use your time differently. You are taking on a new, major project. You will need a system for keeping track of appointments, scheduling things to do, and noting times to follow up with people. If you don’t currently use some form of calendar, electronic organizer or day planner, this is the time to start!
If you have a job, you will have to keep some time available during business hours for interviews, phone calls, etc. To avoid endless rounds of "phone tag" and to make scheduling easier, let people know when you will be available. Start varying your schedule now so it won’t be so obvious if you have to duck out to go to an interview or a make a few cell phone calls in the middle of the day. Go out for lunch. If you can, get to work later or leave earlier. And if all else fails, develop a chronic yet invisible ailment that requires repeated doctor's visits (root canal can be useful here).
You will have to handle other tasks either before or after work. You will have to make it clear to the people in your life that you may not be as available for certain activities as you had been. If your schedule is already full, you may have to put some commitments on hold until your new job begins.
If you are not employed, it can be just as difficult to manage your schedule because of the fallacy that you have plenty of time to handle things "later." The problem is that by definition, "later" never arrives. The key is to attach a deadline –– a date and a time –– to each item on your to do list. You can schedule specific times each day to do different things, taking your personal style into account.
If you are a morning person, you might want to make phone calls and schedule interviews before noon, and save tasks that don’t require as much focus (like sending e–mail and doing research) for after lunch when your energy level is lower. However, if structure makes you want to rebel, keep your days varied, but be sure that you are making progress in all aspects of your search throughout the week.
When scheduling activities, be realistic about how long things take. Can you really make twenty calls in one afternoon? If you have a 1:30 meeting, block out plenty of time for travel before and after it. Plan to arrive a few minutes early so you can collect your thoughts beforehand.
Organize your workspace
Let’s face it –– it’s not always fun looking for a job. Conducting a job search in a workspace that is depressing, drab and a mess can make the process even more difficult. Think of ways your space can lift your mood. Feed all your senses. Put images that you love above your phone, so you can look at snow-covered mountains, your smiling nieces, or the latest Ferrari as you leave your fifteenth voicemail of the day. Burn incense ... bring in fresh flowers ... have a bowl of M&Ms nearby ... play music ... whatever works for you. If you feel happier, more energized, and inspired, it will come through in everything you do.
Lisa Zaslow, an organizational and productivity consultant, is the founder of Gotham Organizers in New York City. She helps people to be more effective and less stressed by organizing their offices, homes and lives. To learn more, visitwww.GothamOrganizers.com , e-mail info@GothamOrganizers.com , or call (212)866-9493.
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